Heather Denning, M.A., ATR-BC, ATCS, LSW, is a new instructor of Art Therapy at Mercyhurst University. Originally from Ohio, Denning has a B.S. in Art Therapy from Bowling State University, with concentrations in Social Work and Drawing. She then attended Norwich University, where she received her M.A. in Art Therapy.
“My high school art teacher told me about the field of Art Therapy, and I wanted a career with the arts and working with people,” Denning said.
Denning began teaching part time at Mercyhurst during the 2016 school year. This year, however, she was brought into the program full time.
“I actually found the position through the Mercyhurst website and I have friends and students who went to the program. I knew it was a well established undergraduate art therapy program,” Denning said.
Denning has big plans for the program.
“I really want to establish and grow the Art Therapy program and connect students to real-life experiences where art therapists may be working,” said Denning. “I would like to start some group art therapy classes and continue some additional service learning opportunities for Art Therapy students abroad.”
Denning, accompanied by several Mercyhurst students as well as graduate students from Ursuline College, will be traveling to Nepal to work with schoolchildren. They will be doing art therapy with the students in the classroom and hope to engage the multicultural atmosphere through art.
Meanwhile, the graduate students will be working with victims of human trafficking.
“Within the first year of teaching, she was the driving force for the Art Therapy program’s very first study abroad trip to Nepal,” said Morgan Karcher, junior Art Therapy and Psychology double major. “These classes have made me feel confident in my knowledge of art therapy and psychotherapy as well as my experience in volunteer work and preparation for graduate school.”
Many students feel more prepared for their futures after taking Denning’s classes.
“I like that she has a lot of application that we can use in the real world, which is really helpful. Classes are hands on and practical application,” said Cailin Jaspers, sophomore Art Therapy major.
Students also commented on the healthy environment that Denning creates in her classroom.
“I think that she provides a very safe and positive learning space for her students and is dedicated to giving them the best education possible,” said Julia Detota, sophomore double major in Art Therapy and Psychology. “Being an art therapist herself, she brings in a huge amount of insight and experience for the program.”
In addition to providing exceptional teaching and a stimulating environment, Denning also is willing to act as a mentor for her students.
“I think Professor Denning’s teaching is very effective. Her classes are super fun because she’s always there to help us and talk about anything,” said Erin Jenkins, a junior double major in Art Therapy and Art Education.
Overall, the reaction to Denning has been positive.
“She truly is a gift to the Art Department, and I can’t wait to see where the Art Therapy program goes,” said Karcher.